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People of NKY: Oh, the decisions you make when you’re young! They worked out for Judy Harrer

By Ginger Dawson
NKyTribune reporter

In the era before helicopter parents, being a kid was a pretty nice laissez-faire condition to be in. There was a lot of time for amorphous speculation about life without a cellphone tether. There was also lots of time for fun and looking ahead without pressure (if you were lucky).

Going off to college, back then, was the same. The decisions about this important moment in a person’s life were casual and not terrifically driven (if you were lucky). Like a shot in the dark, the inspirations for deciding where to go, or what to do when you got there came from just about anywhere. This is not to say that motivation is lacking.

Judy Harrer with Mr. Maybe and Margaret. (Photo by Ginger Dawson)

It’s just that the world looks to be your oyster. What could go wrong? And nobody was asking, or answering, this question: “How on earth is a seventeen or eighteen-year-old supposed to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives?”

After graduating from high school, Judy Harrer made a decision about college in just about this same way. She grew up in Barrington, Illinois, a nice town on the outskirts of Chicago. It was a pleasant existence with all of the more civilized amenities that come from being in a larger metropolitan area. Chicago loomed large.

Even so, one idea that Judy’s father (3 daughters!) impressed upon her was to always be able to make her own way. Be able to always take care of yourself. She took this to heart.

Looking for something completely different, she picked an out of state college. Murray State University in Southwestern Kentucky was the place. It had a good reputation, and, sensibly heeding parental advice, the distance to drive home was not too great if homesickness became a problem. She would study biology as she always had an interest in plants and nature.

Judy in the side yard surveying the honeysuckle project. (Photo by Ginger Dawson)

Oh, and also the fact that Judy had a horse growing up and loved it….well, Kentucky was obviously a good decision. Makes sense to me!

Murray, Kentucky was Judy’s first experience with culture shock. It was a small town, and being very close to Tennessee, it was very southern. And still, at that late date, there were people in the surrounding countryside who did not have indoor plumbing.

But, the one thing that was a shock was that Murray was located in a dry county! Whoever heard of such a thing!

Of course, as students tend to be clever at adapting to such things, it was known that Tennessee was about ten miles away, and was NOT dry. And so, this extra distance and a common goal directed two of them to a bar in an even smaller town, Puryear. It turned out to be a bottleneck of fate for Judy.

Judy met Frank. It was kismet.

Frank Warnock, whom many Northern Kentuckians know as Covington’s former city solicitor, current city administrator of Bellevue and man about town was enrolled at Murray, as well. He was studying journalism.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, with a focus on plants, Judy accepted a three-month internship at Callaway Gardens, in LaGrange, Georgia. Callaway Gardens is a resort complex that was originally established as a sanctuary to protect and promote native Azalea species.

After this ended, she moved to Louisville, where Frank was. She worked for Durkee Famous Foods for about a year and a half. She was employed as a lab technician in quality control for vegetable oil. This entailed running sample tests on production batches, and it also included TASTE testing. Yuk.
Needless to say, this did not retain its appeal for long.

Judy, up for another round of culture shock, was lured to New Orleans by a work opportunity. She accepted a job at the Hyatt Hotel with the responsibility of taking care of all of the plants in the hotel.

Judy Harrer and Frank Warnock on the streetcar in Cincinnati. Still totally in synch. (Photo provided)

This is when she decided two things — first, she did not like this job either, and secondly, she definitely did like Frank Warnock.

Judy and Frank married in the fall of 1979. They lived in Cynthiana, Kentucky where Frank was employed as editor of the Lebanon Enterprise and then as editor of the Cynthiana Democrat.

Judy, able to find another job close by, was employed at the University of Kentucky as a research assistant in plant pathology.

While Judy was at work, she kept hearing about pharmacy, as a profession, and noticed that there always seemed to be a lot of opportunity in the field, job-wise. And, even better, this was a line of study that really piqued her interest.

So, in 1981, she enrolled in the pharmacy program at UK. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy, she was never at a loss for work. People called HER.

In the meantime, Frank changed direction in his career, too. He had always wanted to go to law school, but never felt he could afford it. After an unexpected windfall inheritance, he had the means. In 1984, he enrolled in the Chase Law School at Northern Kentucky University, which precipitated a move north.

Frank and Judy on their wedding day. Are these two happy or what? (Photo provided)

While Frank was in school, Judy took care of business. She was working at different pharmacy positions— some were ok and others were not.

In addition, after a brief stint in apartment living, she found their first house, and ultimately their second one, in Bellevue. This is where they still live.

In 1985, Judy found her other forever home, professionally. She accepted a position as a staff pharmacist at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in Cincinnati. She has been there ever since.

And, she went back to school again. In 1989, she received a Master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Cincinnati’s James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy. And further still, she obtained her Doctor of Philosophy in 1994.

In 1996, she became a clinical research pharmacist with a focus on mental health and substance abuse. And then, continuing to move up, she assumed supervisory positions for outpatient pharmacy. Since 2015, she has been Assistant Chief of Pharmacy Inpatient Programs.

Judy and Frank at Judy’s sister’s wedding. Look at Frank’s curls! (Photo provided)

Judy has also always taught, beginning as a teaching assistant in general biology at Murray State, for starters (she wasn’t Dr. Judy, yet) and has continued with classes in different areas of pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Pharmacy, Nursing School and College of Medicine to site a few.

And, of course, the path to attaining the status of Ph.D. means that publishing is part of the game. Over Dr. Judy’s academic and professional career she has published scores of articles and abstracts.

Clearly, that decision to attend Murray State was a good one. She ran into Frank Warnock and it set her on a path to finding her true calling. She’s done a pretty good job of making her own way and taking care of herself.

Judy handles all of the business at the house with renovation projects inside and out. Currently, the focus is on conquering the choking honeysuckle that is covering the hillside by their house. Wildflowers are the desired replacement or anything that the deer don’t like. Clearly, with her early focus on horticulture, she is equal to this task.

Frank has always been content to let Judy take care of the home front. He barely mustered the interest to have a look at their current house before they bought it! (Judy did convince him that she thought he should).

I know that he has perfect confidence in Judy’s judgment and abilities, but I did ask about his deference/possible negligence in this area. Judy had this to say: “I take care of the house; Frank takes care of the city.”

Fair enough!

Ginger Dawson writes about people — the neighbors you need to know and people you need to meet and understand. If you have ideas for subjects please share them with Ginger at ginger@fuse.net.

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